Communication Software

Discord has become the primary program I use for audio and video calls. Most often it is used audio only during gaming, but over the holidays the video was nice for connecting with family far away.

We used to use Facetime because we all had one or more Apple products, but I think Discord might be a bit better quality overall. We probably still will use Facetime at some point when it is most convenient, but because Discord runs on all platforms, we used it this time so we could use a larger screen.

I use Tweet Deck daily to see all of my Twitter accounts simultaneously. It has been very reliable and so I rarely use Twitter only on my pc’s. On my cellphone, occasionally I will use the Twitter app switching from one account to another as I read. I am almost exclusively a lurker on Twitter and use several accounts for easier management of the different topics of interest to me. However, the primary exception to my lurking is auto-Tweeting the posts of this Tech Muddler blog. That is one way to follow this blog without manually checking the website regularly. One can also follow via email or RSS feed.

Skype used to be the primary program for audio during gaming, but the interface changed so much with Windows 10, I became disenchanted with it. Also, my grandsons introduced me to Discord, which seems to provide better sound quality, so that is now what we use.

 

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Utility Software

Sometimes specialized software is essential for accomplishing certain tasks. Currently I use some regularly and others sporadically.

Since I use backup drives (WD USB) on both my computers, I find the WD Smartware and Quick View apps to be useful for management of the backup process. It allows me to set the frequency of and times for executing the backups.

Because I use various Intel products, the Intel Driver and Support Assistant is helpful. In one check it analyzes all drivers and indicates which need to be updated.

Similar is the Razer Synapse that I use primarily to check for updates. It is much more than an update app allowing for many customized settings of the sophisticated gaming mouse, but I don’t use any of that in my gaming.

When I rented my own Minecraft servers, FileZilla was the go-to program for backing up, uploading or downloading files, etc. Since I no longer have servers, it very rarely gets use now, although I try to keep it updated to the latest version.

Finally, FoneTrans was at one time the only way I could move files, especially photos, from our iPads to the Windows-based computers. Now, the latest versions of Windows 10 have made it possible to do that without use of dedicated software. (I used FoneTrans because after having major problems with Apple iTunes, I vowed never to install or use it again.) It caused a full computer crash requiring a complete reboot of Windows 10 back when I had just upgraded from Windows 7 to 10.

I suspect there are many other utility programs that are useful to many, but currently these are what I use.

 

Photo Management

One of the major disappointments I’ve had with Google’s discontinued projects, is it’s failing to continue support for Picasa 3. I still find it the best, easiest to use program for my purposes, which is mostly to organize all my digital photos systematically by date in one place. As long is it continues to work, I will use it. I have even kept the installation .exe file to set it up on a new computer, which has been useful three times already this year.

There are two other apps that I need to use to get all photos in the same place. They are Google Photos (including Google Drive) and Verizon Cloud. Both are helpful in moving files from our cellphone and iPads to our main computer, where all can be organized by Picasa. At one time I did use One Drive also, but have discontinued using it completely because I prefer other online storage options.

When it comes to manipulating a picture, I use Microsoft Paint, but I use it so rarely that I will simply mention it here and not go into any detail.

For the most part, my working with photos, as one can see from the above notes, is pretty rudimentary. Nevertheless, I find these apps essential to my computer use.

Productivity Software

In the last post, I alluded to using Microsoft Office. For years, that has been the primary software suite for word processing, spreadsheets and databases, etc.

As a higher education administrator, Word, Excel, and Power Point were essential tools for my work. At home, I have no need for Power Point, but do use Access for management of various things, especially mailing address lists for easy production of mailing labels.

The only other Microsoft tool I use somewhat infrequently is Notepad. I have never used OneNote or other office tools, and probably never will now that I’m retired.

In the “office” grouping, I recently installed LibreOffice primarily to re-learn it so I can help my daughter, who is in early stages of developing her blog. She does not want to invest in Microsoft Office, so this was the best option. I also am looking ahead to the day when I abandon Office because I simply do not want to buy into Office 365.

Several years ago, I used OpenOffice quite a bit on my laptop because I did not want to buy a second copy of Office. It worked well for me than, so I anticipate Write and Calc (the equivalents for Word and Excel) will be quite adequate for our current purposes. One very nice feature is to save files in Word and Excel formats so they can be easily transferred to Office when necessary. The other components are less portable. Most disappointing is the Base Database being so different from Access, that whenever I give up on Office, I’ll have to rebuild the databases from scratch.

Even though browsers now have PDF reader capability, we use Adobe Reader DC on the desktop. Since I’m trying to not load the laptop with too much software, I use a browser for viewing PDFs.

One other very useful program for PDF is PDFsam 3. The “sam” stands for split, add, merge. The free version works fine for me, so I have resisted buying any pro versions. The times I use it most are when scanning lengthy documents printed on both sides of the paper. The merge function makes it easy to create a single PDF document out of two scans.

For many years, I have used Quicken to keep track of bank accounts and credit card purchases. The latest version I have used is 2015, but earlier this year they discontinued support for it and I can no longer download data from banks. My practice had been to upgrade only when my older version was no longer supported. This year, I’ve managed alright without it, but checking manually is more complicated and tedious, so I decided to breakdown and buy the Quicken 2019 license, knowing I will be investing in a new version now every year.

One final productivity program I have come to like and use daily, is Wunderlist. It is a to-do list app, I use in both PC and Android versions so works very well for keeping grocery lists that can be created or added to on any device. I then use my cellphone when shopping to check things off the list as I put them in the cart. Obviously, it can be used for all kinds of lists. One feature I like, is lists can be shared with other users, so my wife and I can work from the same shopping list. This is one of the rare exceptions of my use of the cloud technology. Privacy and security are not such a big deal for grocery lists. 😊

As I did with email, I’ll mention some of the older programs I’ve used in the past. One college I worked for used the Novell networking system and we all used Corel software – Word Perfect, Quattro Pro, Presentation.  I liked them all just fine, but had to change to Microsoft at the next college, so they have gone by the wayside.

Before that I was an Apple IIe user exclusively, so AppleWorks (later ClarisWorks) – word processor, spreadsheet, database was what I used at home. The earliest word processor I remember, but not likely the first one I used, was Word Juggler. I also was an early user of Visicalc. I remember the spreadsheet program Lotus 1-2-3, but do not recall ever using it. As I recall back in the 1980’s dBase was the program most DOS based computers used, but I never had one of those at that time.

Email Programs and Providers

When I first thought about this category, I was thinking only of the installed programs we use regularly – Microsoft Outlook and Mozilla Thunderbird. (Opera Mail is another installed program we have tried a couple of different times, but it is too limited for our regular uses, so I have uninstalled it.)

I like both Outlook and Thunderbird quite well, taking advantage of the different options and features they provide. Our desktop has Microsoft Office 2016 (a version that includes Outlook) so that is the default email program on that machine. My laptop has Thunderbird as the default program. When upgrading to Office 2016, I did not want to pay for the full version for the laptop, so got the Home and Student Edition. That meant choosing another email option and Thunderbird is by far my preference over other options I’ve looked at over the years.

After more thought about what to include in this category, I’ve decided to discuss all the myriad other online email providers here also. They could be considered services as well, but since they provide the basic email function, the primary focus of this post, I’ll include them here.

For various reasons I won’t bore you with here, I use numerous different providers and maintain many email accounts, some more than one with a provider. The one attribute I require of a provider – it must be free. Almost all the ones I use also allow POP3 access without charge. A few I rarely use anymore have never allowed POP3 or now charge for that service.

The most heavily used are:

  • Mediacom – my cable/internet/phone provider
  • GMX – an online provider based in Europe
  • Gmail
  • Microsoft Mail (Windows 10)
  • Riseup – a very secure provider focused on support for activists’ email and newsletters. It is located somewhere in the northwest of the United States, but for security reasons, they will not say exactly where. It is free, but to get an account one has to submit a statement of the activist work you are involved in.

The full list of others I still have active:

  • Hotmail
  • Yahoo
  • GishPuppy– no free POP3 access, actually an alias account that auto forwards to your real account without giving the sender that information
  • Hushmail– no free POP3 access in free version, but no tracking
  • Juno – no free POP3 access in the free version (I have had this the longest of all and just use it occasionally as the second email option for other accounts)

I have been using various email options for well over thirty years, so have a little experience with some of the earliest programs. CompuServe was my first private account. Around the same time, the university I worked for began setting up online email for employees only. It was Unix-based and Pine was the program that we used accessed via dial-up.

I never used Prodigy and tried AOL for a while, both competitors then with CompuServe, but never really found them what I liked.

A few years later, I changed institutions and the college I worked for had a similar dial-up system for email. For my private, home email I used NetZero and Juno – both free dial-up servers. Soon after, the college switched to using Pegasus Mail on their network. Because it was free, I installed it at home right away, and that quickly became my favorite for many years. I tried Outlook Express but did not really like it.

Another change of colleges and I had to learn a whole new set of programs. The new college was migrating from a Novell network and software to Microsoft. I was used to using Novell and Corel Word Perfect, Quattro Pro, Presentation, etc. so the learning curve was a bit steep at first. Eventually, I decided it would be easier to have the Microsoft Office at home as well, so bought it with the educator discount – a substantial savings over the retail price. Ever since, Office has been a staple in my computer use. With improvements in later versions, Outlook is now a very powerful program, and probably my preference overall.

In that new location, Cox cable was the provider for my home service, and that was my first experience of having email accounts through a cable provider. It worked well most of the time, so when we moved to our current location, Mediacom became my primary email provider and still is.

For now, that concludes the saga of my email use.

 

Desktop Hard Drive

The latest costly computer problem I’ve encountered is the failing of the hard drive on the desktop. The Saturday before Thanksgiving, on boot up it stopped on the test screen indicating the hard drive was “capable and status BAD”. The next evening when I booted up again, the same thing happened. Both times hitting F1 resumed the boot and all seemed to be ok.

I did some online research and learned that the “bad” indication was in fact a warning that this hard drive was failing. There was no telling how long it would continue to function, so it was clear to me a replacement was needed ASAP.

The next day, I called the shop to ask if they had a 1 terabyte, solid-state drive in stock. They did not, so I ordered one and took the rest of the day to make sure I had everything backed up in case the failing drive did not allow cloning it to the new drive.

Tuesday, I took it in and left it there in hopes they would receive the new drive and get it installed, cloned, etc. before the end of the day Wednesday, so we’d have it back before Thanksgiving. They said they would call when it was ready.

It did not get done by then. I’m not terribly surprised. It is a small operation and one of the two guys was out for a Thanksgiving week vacation with family.

It was yesterday, (Wednesday after Thanksgiving – a full eight days later) that I finally was able to pick it up again. I spent most of the day and evening yesterday installing all the software we use. Other than the stuff that comes with Windows 10 Pro, there was nothing on it.

Today I spent all day continuing to install, tweak, troubleshoot, etc. I am finally at a point where it is almost back to normal. There is only one problem I have not resolved yet. That is the DVD drive is not recognized and does not work. I’ve done some research online and have tried a couple of the possible solutions, but so far, no success.

That will have to be the subject of another post someday.

Browsers

On the two PC’s, we use three browsers regularly – Mozilla Firefox, Chrome, Microsoft Edge.

My preference is Firefox, not the least because it is open source. I’ve always been a fan of open source as a concept and try to support software that continues in that vein. Another reason is it is less a resource hog than Chrome. If one uses a browser while gaming (I often do with Minecraft), a smaller program is helpful to keeping computing power focused on the game.

For years Chrome was my preference, but as it has grown in size and complexity, I like it less. My wife is used to it, so that is set as the default browser on the desktop.

Microsoft Edge has one advantage – it is generally faster than other browsers. However, the way I use bookmarks, it is woefully inadequate for folders, sub-folders, etc. I use it relatively rarely on both machines, but sometimes it is useful.

The first browser I ever used was Mosaic. Then soon after, Netscape and Internet Explorer were the best options. I always preferred Netscape back then. Over the years I used several others, including Opera, Pale Moon, and the SeaMonkey suite, but eventually settled on Chrome and Firefox.

I should note on the iPad, I’ve used Safari (don’t like it), Chrome, and Mercury. I very much prefer Mercury, so use that almost exclusively now.